Update 5:00 p.m.: The Council unanimously gave initial approval to a revised version of the D.C. General replacement plan—but not without friction.
After returning from a press conference on District budget autonomy held with Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, Mayor Muriel Bowser apparently cursed at the chairman in a Wilson Building hallway, according to WAMU: “You’re a fucking liar! You know it can’t close in 2018.”
The Council has required the administration to own all shelter sites instead of leasing them, as Bowser’s plan had proposed.
Much of the tension between the administration and Council revolves around whether the District can in fact bid adieu to D.C. General by the fall of that year, when the next mayoral election is set to happen. Mendelson insists that the revised legislation makes that anticipated timeframe “possible” instead of “doubtful.” The administration says that the newly proposed sites in the Council plan may have their own problems. The Council will vote again on the plan in two weeks.
Later on, during the Council’s additional legislative meeting, Councilmember LaRuby May reintroduced an amendment to provide for “up to 50 units” in each of the sites contained in the Council’s revision, this time equipped with a previously missing fiscal-impact statement. But At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman was quick to point out that “holding to a firm number now might be premature,” in light of the fact that the Council and administration would assess the new sites over the next couple of weeks. Mendelson agreed with Silverman’s argument, adding that three of the sites Bowser had originally proposed called for fewer than 50 units. He asked May to withdraw her amendment, which he claimed could “allow for mischief.”
May declined and the Council defeated it four-to-eight with one absence from Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans. Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd, Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander, and At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange supported the 50-unit guarantee.
“I don’t see how this particular amendment is doing any harm,” Orange said. “It is providing that flexibility. No site has more than 50 units and the [total] cap is already at 272.”
“We’re all in this together,” he continued. “We should all be claiming victory. We should all be getting ready to go to happy hour…There’s no mischief going on, no obstruction taking place, misinformation given…It’s a bad look for us when we in fact [have] something good.”
As Nadeau pointed out, “the next step is for the mayor to go back to the table with the property owners to close the deal” on the Ward 1 and 4 sites, since the revised legislation requires District-owned land for the shelters.
Original story (1:28 p.m.): As the D.C. Council prepares to vote for the first time on Mayor Muriel Bowser’s plan to build small-scale family homeless shelters at sites across the District, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said on Tuesday that the process for reviewing seven sites initially proposed by the administration “was hampered by obfuscation and misinformation.”
“In choosing those words, I am not alone among councilmembers,” Mendelson said on the dais, noting that he’d learned more in the past day about the proposed and alternative sites than he had “in the last two months.”
“These problems would all have been avoided if there had been more collaboration…[and] there would not be questions about credibility.”
On Monday, the Council released a revised version of the plan, which requires the District to own all the land upon which the family homeless shelters will be built. Only two of them, in Wards 7 and 8, fell on public land under Bowser’s original proposal; under a bill the Council is advancing today, D.C. would have to change sites, buy them, or use eminent domain. The paradigm shift from leased to owned sites is expected to save taxpayers upwards of $160 million, an analysis found.
Ward 4 and 8 Councilmembers Brandon Todd and LaRuby May, both allies of Bowser who are up for reelection this year, voiced concerns about the revised plan. May tried to introduce an amendment that would have required each specific site in the marked-up version to have “up to 50” units rather than the numbers spelled out in the bill, but Mendelson ruled it out of order because May had not prepared a fiscal-impact statement. Todd expressed frustration about the new structure for funding the revised plan: Reallocating approximately $50 million from a school modernization project in Ward 4 to shelters.
“The students and families in Ward 4 that go to Calvin Coolidge Senior High School have been repeatedly put off,” he said. “[The modernization] has been kicked down the road year after year after year. I want it to be perfectly clear that [they] are not happy that this Council is forcing them to bear the brunt for all eight wards of the District of Columbia to pay for [this].”
Spokespeople for Bowser did not immediately respond to a request for comment about Mendelson’s remarks. Still, her chief of staff, John Falcicchio, tweeted during the session that the needs of the revised plan could delay the administration’s promised closure of the D.C. General shelter in fall 2018. He suggested that those may include new designs and zoning considerations as well as legal battles if D.C. uses eminent domain to acquire the Ward 1 and 4 sites.
The Council seems poised to adopt the revised plan during its additional legislative meeting this afternoon, given that the majority of Councilmembers delivered positive remarks about it this morning. Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen said he was “very proud of what we’re moving forward today,” pointing to the benefits of a newly proposed site for his ward at Second and K streets NW, such as supporting bigger units and possibly other housing. At-Large Councilmember Elissa Silverman said she gave “great credit” to Bowser for submitting the initial plan, but ultimately supports the “improved” one.
“Some in the press have criticized [us] for worrying about the costs of these shelters,” Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, who supports the revision, said. “[But] every dollar that we save on [not paying for] above-market leases is a dollar we can invest in our residents.” (The Ward 5 site Bowser proposed was one of the most heavily criticized, located in an industrial zone near a Metro bus depot, a strip club, and a trash-transfer facility. Under the amended plan, the District has one of two options for a new site, at 326 R St. NE or 1700 Rhode Island Ave. NE. McDuffie said he prefers the latter.)
The Council’s changes may draw ire from residents who live near the newly proposed sites, those concerned about the funding mechanism for owning them, and those who doubt that the District can indeed close D.C. General in two and a half years.
The chairman explained that the new legislation “fully funds” the mayor’s plan and will save the city money in the long run.
“The print reflects the best aspects of the mayor’s request refined by councilmembers’ input,” he said. “I can’t say that there won’t be any zoning controversy, but the sites reflected in the [draft committee] print should engender far less controversy than [those proposed in] the bill that was introduced.”
Mendelson added that he received a phone call from D.C. Department of Human Services Director Laura Zeilinger this morning, and promised to discuss how the new sites could accommodate the required number of units for shutting D.C. General.